LONDON, Ont. — Ontario’s Liberals and New Democrats are pledging to revisit a model for licensing cannabis stores they say isn’t working — a problem Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford said the market will resolve. 

Clusters of cannabis stores have cropped up in some communities, while other Ontario municipalities have banned the retailers altogether, leading to what some describe as unequal access to the drug across the province. 

“It’s a significant challenge in many communities,” Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said Saturday during a campaign stop in Toronto’s west end. “You literally drive around … other parts of the GTA and elsewhere and you see that.”

He pointed to other jurisdictions where there are minimum distances between pot shops. 

“We would pursue the same thing,” Del Duca said, noting he’d keep municipalities involved in the process.

He described clustering as a “side effect” of the Progressive Conservative government’s approach to distributing legalized cannabis. 

The previous Liberal government, voted out in 2018, had planned to open 40 government-run retail cannabis shops by the summer of that year, with the network of stores to expand to 150 by 2020.

The Tories changed the cannabis retail model because they said expanding the number of stores and moving to a private system would better address demand and curb black market sales.

Since then, hundreds of stores have opened — some just around the corner from each other. 

“It’s not good enough,” Del Duca said of Ford’s system. “Just having it be a random arbitrary process? Not good enough.” 

But Ford said clustering is a temporary problem that market forces will solve without government intervention. 

“It doesn’t matter if it’s cannabis or another type of the store. The market will take care of it. There’s no way you can cluster any type of business beside each other. It’s like putting six convenience stores together. There’s going to be two that might survive,” he said at a campaign stop in London, Ont., on Saturday. 

As for the municipalities without cannabis stores, Ford said that’s their prerogative. 

“I leave that up to the municipalities. No one knows their community better than the municipalities,” he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath agreed that municipalities had to be involved in cannabis-related decisions, but said she’d reopen the discussion around clustering.

“The most I hear about this particular issue is concern from communities and municipalities about the overtaking of business districts by this one type of retailer,” she said.

“I’m not afraid to have a look at all of that. I think it needs to be done.”

The NDP said they would give municipalities a greater say in the licensing process, for instance by allowing them to limit the number of cannabis stores on a single block. 

Marit Stiles, an NDP legislator currently seeking re-election in the riding of Davenport, introduced a private member’s bill to that effect last year, which she said would bring the cannabis licensing process more in line with liquor licensing. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2022.

-with files from Maan Alhmidi and Jessica Smith in Toronto.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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